None of us require much in the way of a knife or multi-tool when backpacking. A small blade will normally cope with most tasks. However greater functionality can be useful on multi-day excursions. The diminutive Leatherman Squirt S4 has been a favourite of Three Points of the Compass across thousands of miles of trail.
Most backpackers will simply carry a little Victorinox Classic SD or something similar on trail. Three Points of the Compass has used one of these many times in the past and more recently moved to breaking down the components and I wrote on better individual tool components here. But for that multi week, possibly multi month trail I have found one little keychain sized offering from Leatherman has provided 99% of the tools I have required, and for the other one percent I have made do, as we all do. That said, my needs are different to many others and the toolset on the Squirt S4 may not suit the great majority.
Leatherman began making multi-tools in 1983 when it released the PST (Pocket Survival Tool). Three years later, in 1986, Leatherman shrunk their tools and released the MiniTool (in production until 2004). However that had no scissors and at 114g was no keychain tool. In 1996 they released the Micra, this was the first of their keychain multi-tools. They went on to release another eight keychain models. Three of which are still available for purchase. The retired models can still be picked up on the second hand market, though some are beginning to get scarce and consequently expensive.
In 2002 Leatherman released the steel framed, aluminium anodised Squirt S4 and Squirt P4. The S4 had Scissor jaws while the P4 had a small set of Pliers. My Squirt S4 was made in 2007 and I purchased it the following year. Production ceased in 2010. It has accompanied Three Points of the Compass on well over 3000 trail miles but is frequently exchanged with a different knife or multi-tool, especially on shorter hikes or day hikes, where I see no need for the greater capability of the S4. The terrific little Leatherman S4 remains a favourite however and retains default position on the gear list until swapped out.
This is a keyring multi-tool but I have never carried it on my keyring. There is a tiny hanger included on the tool but that gets folded away into the frame and has remained there apart from having been pulled out for the photograph included here, it was then immediately swung back round and tucked away again. If I kept this in my pocket then fluff and general crud could build up under the externally positioned tools as that is a fault inherent in this type of tool configuration. But this isn’t an issue for me as I prefer to keep it in my food or ditty bag, usually the latter.
The short, UK legal chisel cut blade is made from 420HC stainless steel and came with a good edge ‘back in the day’. This has been sharpened many times since then. Sharpening is a simple task and the steel will retain an edge for some time. It has a 41mm blade but not all of this is usable length. The flat cutting length is only some 27mm in length (a little over an inch) with another 10mm or so of curved bade beyond this. It sounds very short but is up to just about any camp kitchen task I have put it to mostly because the blade is positioned in such a manner that I can cut foodstuffs flat to a surface.
Many people think that it is the blade that is the most useful tool on trail, however scissors are used to a far greater extent. Opening packages and dehydrated meals, trimming tape, thread and cordage, even skin on occasion. While a tiny pair of 58mm Victorinox Classic scissors are good, I have very much appreciated the larger scissors on the S4 on occasion. Jaw length is 24mm. These are spring loaded and again, have needed a little sharpen on occasion.
There are three screwdrivers on the S4 and I have used all of them on occasion. From loosening and tightening screws on poles, to stove repair, to removing the back of a phone that required drying out. I have, however, wished that the 5mm flat screwdriver and cap lifter were a can/tin opener instead on occasion. I have hacked my way into a tin with this in the past but it was a tortuous process and the S4 didn’t appreciate it, thankfully with no damage caused. If that Phillips were an awl instead, I think I would like that too. As a glasses wearer, it is probably the extra small 2mm screwdriver that has seen most use. That and the bottle opener which has opened numerous bottles of beer over the years. I have used the nail file and nail cleaner on longer hikes and both are fine but I now carry a better glass nail file in the First Aid Kit. There is also a 5cm/1.5″ ruler on the nail file, that I have never used.
Other than scissors, it can often be a pair of tweezers that are the most used tool on trail. From removing ticks, thorns, splinters, bees stings, lifting flaps of skin to removing gravel from a graze, there isn’t much that can duplicate their work. Most tweezers included on knives and multi tools are too flexible for many tasks and those on the S4 are no exception. Fortunately they are removeable, have an angled chamfered tip and can be grasped near their tips to give more gripping power. These tweezers are hidden away on the S4 and the little sleeve they sit in is getting a bit grotty. This is not the easiest to clean either.
Leatherman Squirt S4
- Production dates: 2002-2010
- Dimensions (across scale screws) 60mm (57mm with key hanger folded) X 20.55mm X 13.60mm
- Weight: 52.3g
There is obviously a weight penalty with carrying a multi-tool on trail instead of a very light Victorinox or similar. The Squirt S4 weighs 52.3g and that has been acceptable for me on many a long hike. I have been extremely thankful to pull this little tool from my pack on just a few occasions where it has made life just that little bit easier. It is now a long discontinued tool but the toolset is so similar to the 50g Micra that I might find myself including that larger tool should I ever lose my favourite. I find the layout of the smaller S4 superior, mostly due to the more useful removable tweezers and that all tools are located on the outside of the frame and are more easily accessible. The Micra also seems just a little clunky in comparison. Small points perhaps, but if there is the choice, why not go for the configuration that works best, for you?
This blog is part of a short series looking at my favourite pieces of backpacking gear. Others in the series have been:
The Leatherman Squirt S4 is quite an old tool and hasn’t been produced for quite some time, nor have many of the other nine keychain multi-tools that Leatherman produced since the Micra was released in 1996. All can be found on the second-hand market but some are getting difficult to track down and a couple, such as the specialised Squirt E4, command quite ridiculous prices for what they are. I have looked at all of these in greater detail:
- Keychain Leatherman- features and specifications
- The Micra
- The Style series, and as part of an Urban Altoids EDC Kit
- The Squirt series
- What is the best keychain multi-tool for hiking